Book review: 'Twelve Gates to the City' by Daniel Black

“Twelve Gates to the City” is a story of home, family and how a prodigal son's return helped heal a small Southern town.
BY BETTY LYTLE Published: May 27, 2012

“Twelve Gates to the City” (St. Martin's Press, $25.99) by Daniel Black is a story of home, family and how a prodigal son's return helped heal a small Southern town.

Tommy Lee “TL” Tyson has returned to Swamp Creek after several years. He has a Ph.D. in black studies and intends to take over as schoolmaster. The previous schoolmaster, who happened to be his mother, has died.

TL was raised by his father and stepmother and never knew who his real mother was until later in life. He still doesn't know what happened to his sister but feels his stepmother was involved somehow. He wants to find out how his sister died.

He has a troubled relationship with his parents, he struggles with his sexuality, and he's trying to fit in again in a small town.

The narrator of the story is Sister. Although she is dead, she looks out for TL and helps provide spiritual revelations.

The town misfit, Cliffesteen, claims to talk to Sister, and she presents TL with another mystery. What happened to her Aunt Easter, whom the townspeople believed was magical?

To further complicate the story, TL is hallucinating about a golden city marked by 12 gates. He learns that Swamp Creek was once a thriving town called Black Haven, to which people came from all around to conduct their business. He would like to bring that town back to life.

Black describes black tradition and spirituality well, but the story gets tangled in the process.

— Betty Lytle

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